Profiles in Leadership: John R. Lawson, II, Executive Chairman, W.M. Jordan Company, Newport News

As we continue our Profiles in Leadership series, highlighting a few of the many leaders making a difference and impacting our communities, we are pleased to feature a longstanding partner of An Achievable Dream and friend of Walter Segaloff, John R. Lawson. In this special 30th anniversary edition, we had the opportunity to interview Mr. Lawson on his leadership, friendship with Walter Segaloff, and partnership with An Achievable Dream.

W.M. Jordan Company has been a longtime supporter of An Achievable Dream (AAD) since its inception in 1992. Can you share about your friendship with Walter Segaloff? How did he introduce the program’s concept to you?

Walter was a remarkable leader and friend. Lunch with Walter was an inquisition, not only on your thoughts but Walter’s intentions. He always took notes and was generously focused on your opinion and outlook. AAD was a concept that Walter saw in Israel and was so unconventional that it might succeed! Walter believed and had a magnetic effect on his friends.

W.M. Jordan Company is the graduating class sponsor for the AAD Class of 2007, and continues to sponsor and support AAD, including as a What It Takes partner, helping to teach our students the soft skills needed to succeed in the workforce. How is this ongoing partnership meaningful to W.M. Jordan?

AAD is the best program and effort we have ever seen, based on results. It is very rewarding to work with students who have structure and discipline in their lives through the model of the AAD program and are as committed as we are to increasing the quality of life in our community.

You served as president and CEO of W.M. Jordan Company for more than 30 years. How would you describe your leadership with the organization? What were some of the most pivotal moments you experienced during your leadership?

It begins with making people believe in you — being willing and able to do the most menial task while giving credit to others. Keeping a cool head and showing strength and confidence during recessions, challenging projects, and the pandemic are essential.

What do you believe are some of the core values that every leader should possess? How do these values drive the direction of an organization?

Optimism, enthusiasm, knowledge about all current issues, fearless, decisive, and the ability to delegate authority are core values that every leader should possess. Being able to admit failure and shortcomings, acknowledging the successes of each employee, and saying “thank you” and “I appreciate you.”

What are your core values as a leader? How have they influenced your leadership at W.M. Jordan and contributed to the company’s success?

Monetary objectives never work. You must focus on the culture and process. At their core, people are not mercenaries; they want their teammates to like them and for both of them to be successful. Be clear in your direction, answer questions honestly, and never try to make your fortune on someone’s misfortune.

How do you keep your team focused on the big picture at W. M. Jordan? How can other leaders focus on the big picture?

Constant reinforcement on the overall strategy, what it takes to get there, how we quickly adjust to outside or inside challenges, and most importantly, continual and relentless improvement. Other leaders can improve by self-evaluation and sharing best practices with best-in-class competitors.

An Achievable Dream is celebrating its 30th year in operation. What do you think contributed to the program’s success and sustainability? How is Walter’s legacy being carried on?

AAD is successful due to Walter’s visionary leadership and the community’s continued belief in its mission. It will require constant support and reinvention to sustain.